Black Cat’s Eric Skokan Writes Cookbook, Saves Farm

By Ruth Tobias  |  February 19, 2014

Eric Skokan of Boulder’s Black Cat Bistro and Bramble & Hare doesn’t just talk the farm-to-table talk, he walks the walk, literally: through his own fields on his farm outside Boulder, growing crops and raising heritage breeds along the way. And somehow, the chef-restaurateur has found time to write a cookbook too. Here, he gives the scoop on his as-yet-untitled project, to be published by Kyle Books in September, and an update on the farm, which was hit hard by the floods last fall. 

Zagat: What motivated you to undertake a cookbook? Can you give us an overview?
Eric Skokan:
My wife Jill and I sell at the Boulder farmer’s market every Saturday, and I became inspired by the one-on-one conversations we had with our customers. Whether it was about what to do with borlotti beans or how to make zucchini exciting and delicious again, the question was: how do you turn that inspiration all of us feel at the market into a great meal?

So the book is a collection of 125 seasonal recipes that tell the story of our farm and the restaurant. It’s broken down into chapters by dish type, and there are lots of sidebars with funny personal stories and how-tos on growing veggies, say, or making vinaigrette, with a little philosophy tucked in. It’s not a guide to starting your own farm or restaurant but a tool to help customers to shop through farmer’s markets and cook with confidence. The layout’s happening now, and the photographer is jaw-droppingly good. We’ve done some shoots in the restaurant and a lot at the farm for behind-the-scenes imagery.

Zagat: What have you learned from the writing process?
At Black Cat, we’re pushed by what’s happening on the farm to change the menu literally every day. It’s really hard to document everything we do that works or doesn’t work, because it all happens so quickly. So one of the joys was sitting down and figuring out all the little steps that we take. Also, owning a farm and a restaurant has been a lifelong dream for me, so this has been part cookbook, part therapy session.

Zagat: You must have needed that after last fall. Has the farm recovered from the flood?
You know, we grow 250 types of vegetables, we raise all these animals and in many ways, it’s maddening. But it’s also safe. We lost thousands and thousands of dollars; the carrots were done, the spinach and cucumbers were done, the piglets were gone. But we’re so diversified that even though we lost all of some things, we lost zero of others. The arugula was the best we’ve ever grown and the parsnips were great. Who could have known?

We made it through a hard time in fall, and the support of the community really kept us going. So many people helped us. Bradford Heap [of Salt and Colterra] single-handedly saved our sheep operation - just out of sheer will. And while we’re still a half-step back from where we were, otherwise we’re feeling very fortunate. We actually started planting yesterday. I’ve felt like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life at many points. Now I’m getting teary-eyed.

Black Cat Bistro: 1964 13th St., Boulder; 303-444-5500
Bramble & Hare: 1970 13th St., Boulder; 303-444-9110